Thursday, October 19, 2006

Not Liking Auden

I had an intriguing conversation with Peter Sansom yesterday, in which we covered many subjects. I'd met him in Manchester after he'd been to a meeting with primary school teachers. We went for a cup of tea and chatted while he waited for his train to Sheffield.

The most interesting, however, was when we started talking about the famous poets we didn't like. We both agreed we didn't like Glynn Maxwell's poetry, but I said that I didn't like Auden much and he said he did.

Auden? I don't like Auden? But surely he's one of the major British poets of the 20th Century? Yes, he is, and no doubt a great one, but I just can't read him...

This isn't about whether they are "good" or "bad" poets. I can recognise Auden as a good poet - but for some reason, I just don't like his poems. Maybe it's that feel schoolmarmish to me - I don't really know. I'd make an exception for Funeral Blues but only because I have a rather shameful love for Four Weddings & a Funeral. I've had the same problem with Olson from another perspective - great poet, but it just doesn't work for me.

Admitting you don't like someone that everyone else thinks is great feels like letting out a great secret. It feels slightly sinful to not like a poet with the reputation of Auden; like saying you don't like Shakespeare (I do, actually.) But I think it's good to let these things out of the bag. Great cultural icons sometimes seem to be beyond criticism, and little old me couldn't possibly measure up to them. Well, maybe I can't be as skillful a poet as Auden undoubtedly was, but that doesn't mean I have to pretend to like something I don't.

So I'm coming out of the closet: I don't like Auden. I do like MacNeice, however. Louis MacNeice was, for me, the best of that bunch. I could happily take his poems with me to a desert island and spend my time reading them.

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